Some of the most renowned innovators in business and technology gathered for a debate in tech mecca San Francisco on Friday morning to debate whether or not entrepreneurs have “lost the will to innovate.”
The general consensus was that innovation is still very much alive and well, but who benefits is questionable.
"Entrepreneurs haven’t lost the will to innovate at all,” remarked Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, "I’ve never known a more exciting time for innovation.”
But Branson was the first to point far beyond the mental bubble of Silicon Valley, positing that there is "help needed in many countries to help entrepreneurs get on their feet.”
In the United Kingdom, for example, Branson highlighted government-led programs that offer budding businesspeople with mentorship, funding and loans, further advising other countries should follow suit.
Megan Smith, vice president of the top secret moonshot lab Google X, reflected that there have "always been amazing entrepreneurs in the world doing astonishing things,” citing that American Red Cross founder Clara Barton "didn’t need computers to do her amazing things.”
"There is something wrong with billionaires if they’re not going to use there money constructively,” Branson asserted.
Access to cutting-edge technology might not be a prerequisite for the next big idea, but geography isn’t the only constraint to fostering innovation either.
Leila Janah, director of humanitarian nonprofit CARE and self-described social entrepreneur, outlined gaps between the business sector and social welfare, notably problem spots from poverty to the prison system.
"The way funding flows into nonprofits is so broken. We don’t have enough incentives for people to move into this sector to work on problems," Janah lamented. "It completely prevents innovation from happening. It squelches it."
“The levels of science and ingenuity that come out of 13- to 17-year-olds is so impressive,” Smith posited while acknowledging there is a divide around the world about people who are aware of these opportunities and those who are not.
In Silicon Valley, Smith observed that serial (and sometimes successful) entrepreneurs are the ones who become angel investors, hinting at a repetitive cycle that keeps innovation alive — at least within the Valley. She suggested that it is necessary to reach out to "places in the world that don’t have alums to lift those entrepreneurs."
"There is something wrong with billionaires if they’re not going to use there money constructively,” Branson asserted. "Capitalism needs to relook. Government needs to relook. These sorts of things need to be addressed.”
Also displaying optimism with a dash of caution, Branson predicted that “we could have a world over the next 10 to 20 years where we could pull the majority of people out of poverty,” but it is going to take a lot of work, dedication, and regulation now to achieve those goals.